FRANKFURT Apple Inc patents covering the "slide to unlock" feature on smartphones are invalid, Germany's highest appeals court ruled on Tuesday, reaffirming a 2013 decision rejecting the U.S. company's claims by a lower court.
The ruling by the Federal Court of Appeals in Karlsruhe covers one of the Apple iPhone's most popular defining features, of which makers of rival Android-based phones have developed their own versions.
In a statement, the appeals court said it confirmed a ruling by the lower Federal Patent Court that canceled Apple's German patent, based on the technique's similarity to a phone released by Swedish company Neonode Inc a year before the iPhone's 2007 launch.
Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Neonode N1 had substantially similar technical features, the patent court had found. It ruled Apple's easier-to-use interface was not in itself patentable.
Neonode sold tens of thousands of phones before declaring bankruptcy in 2008. It reorganized itself as an intellectual property firm licensing its patented optical technology for use in phones, tablets, readers and other touchscreen devices.
Motorola Mobility, at the time a unit of Google Inc but now owned by China's Lenovo Group Ltd, filed the original suit in a Munich court against the Apple user interface patent.
Apple won that case but the ruling was later overturned by the federal patent court.
(Reporting by Eric Auchard and Peter Maushagen; Editing by David Holmes)